English Teachers of South Korea: Tony Antonio Choi
Name: Tony Antonio Choi
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Age: Was born on May 3, 1984, so 32 (Canadian age) and 33 (Korean age)
Currently Living: Seoul, South Korea
Job: Owner & Main Teacher of IGL English located in Seoul
What are you doing right now?
I am currently supervising one of my classes as they do some online tests.
And what’s your typical day?
I don’t really have a typical day because it can vary depending on so many factors. But, let me share a common Monday. Oh, and this is a productive Monday, not a lazy cheat day Monday.
So, I wake up between 6:30am – 8:30 am and help fulfill orders for my other business, “Flower Gift Korea” by visiting the flower market and purchasing whatever flowers we need for the day’s orders. We (mainly my wife and I) prepare the flower orders, get them delivered, exercise (depending on how busy we are) and then get to our hagwon by 1pm-3pm (depending on various factors).
If I get to my hagwon earlier than later, I either do some social marketing for the flower business or create some content (blog posts or podcasts) for two of my side projects that I continually work on, Hagwonstart.com and MarketinginKorea.com. Then I teach classes from 4:00pm to 9:35pm. Every day has a different start time and every day is different depending on how many flower orders we get. A typical week would be easier to explain, but then the answer would get too long. If anyone is interested in knowing, just let me know.
Wow, you seem to have a lot of businesses going on? Could you tell me a bit more about your goals, obstacles, and opportunities to starting and running businesses in Korea?
Yeah, I love sharing about the things I’m doing in hopes that it can encourage or inspire others to reach for their goals.
Well, my goal has everything to do with lifestyle design. I want to create a hagwon that I actually love to teach at, a separate business where family members can choose to be a part of, and ultimately find a way to be able to have these businesses run without me being there. My end goal is to teach others how to start and run businesses in Korea, but I still have a ways to go before I can do this. I love to teach and I believe the English language is an important skill set to have, but I rather inspire and teach people to live the lives they want to live. There are tons of people who “teach” others how to do business in general, but I want to be the guy in Korea. And I don’t want to just teach theory, I want to teach strategies and concepts I actually have success with. So, right now, I’m building towards all of this.
I have had some obstacles, but not that many. I think the biggest obstacle was just my lack of knowledge of doing business in Korea and even just starting my own English hagwon from scratch. Now that I have more knowledge and experience, doing business in Korea has gotten a lot easier. When I started my hagwon, there was literally no information on “How to Start a Hagwon”, so that’s why I made the site, hagwonstart.com. I basically made this site for people who are/were just like me, before owning my own hagwon and running it the way I wanted to run it wasn’t a reality. Also, there wasn’t any information on how to do business in Korea. There was some information about office life in Korea and stuff like that, but there wasn’t any “how to start your own business and market it” type information out there. That’s why I created the MarketinginKorea.com podcast.
I don’t know about any opportunities that came up that led me to pursue businesses or projects. I guess I saw some needs and decided to take some action. However, there was an opportunity that allowed me to land my first corporate job in Korea (outside of teaching), which led me to meet my wife, a business mentor, and set me on the path that I am on now. In short, I met one of my previous employers at the immigration office in Mokdong. He started talking to me in Korean and he ended the conversation speaking in English, which shocked me. He basically interviewed me right then and there, but he didn’t offer me a job, instead he handed me his business card. 3 weeks later I scoped out his business, contacted him, and then explained to him what I could do for his company. I ended up becoming the marketing manager for his company within 3 months, he became one of my mentors, and I met my wife/business partner there. This was probably the biggest opportunity in Korea I took advantage of and it led to so many things.
Where are you from?
I am from Toronto, Canada.
Why did you decide to move here?
A lot of reasons, but mainly because I wanted to do something important with my life and I didn’t think volunteering at schools for a year or so, followed by supply teaching jobs, and then trying to get a shot at a teaching job was it. Also, I have a strong desire to do something in Korea or for Korea. I am not totally sure how to explain it, but I just had this feeling that I needed to be in Korea and that’s why I’m here.
Could you talk about that a bit more? What makes you feel like you need to be in Korea?
Alright, I’ll get a little personal here. I grew up in church and actually cared a lot about social justice growing up, and still do. I always wanted to do something big or great, something that changed the world. So, I went on mission trips to various countries, volunteered in places, and helped out at church whenever I could. However, I didn’t really know much about Korea until my early 20s. I didn’t even know about Korea under Japanese rule, the Korean war, etc.
As I got older, I just had to learn more about my roots. Also, as I got older, I wanted to do something for Korea, something to make the country better. I hope that I can play a part in equipping the younger generation in Korea to truly reach their potential. I have big dreams and hopes, and though I’m just one guy, I’m hoping that I could at least play my part in making the world a better place. And I believe Korea is where I am to do this. Whether it is influencing a small group of students, creating jobs for family or friends, or helping others achieve their potential; I believe in my heart that I am to do this in Korea.
Why do you teach?
I love teaching and I feel as though I am making a different in the lives of the people I teach. I enjoy seeing people learn and grow as people. I just love to see people win and I think it’s an honor to be a part of the process. And teaching plays a big role in everything I mentioned.
If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?
I don’t know, I really love teaching, so I can’t really see a life without teaching. But, I guess I would be doing something to inspire or influence young people or just people in general. Maybe I would be some kind of motivational speaker or a coach (not sure how much money I can make doing either one of these those). I’m not really sure. I can’t really see a life that doesn’t involve teaching in some kind of way.
I know you’ve got a podcast concerning marketing. It’s a great listen. You seem to be coaching people through that medium. Would you want to focus on that more in the future?
Yeah, I would love to coach/teach people through podcast, blog post, or maybe even hold seminars in Korea about doing business in Korea and lifestyle design one day. However, as I mentioned, I am still gaining more experience and designing my own lifestyle.
Once I can replace myself at my hagwon and flower business, I will focus on coaching/teaching through various mediums. In the end, I will still be involved in the hagwon and flower business, but a lot less than now.
What separates the good teachers from the bad?
I would say that there are a few things, but the main thing is caring. A good teacher cares for his or her students well being and progress. Also, a good teacher cares enough to further develop his or her own skills to become a better teacher and cares enough to try to reach every student.
Do you think the current Hagwon and Public School system turns people into bad or good teachers?
Um….I don’t think it turns people into bad or good teachers, but I do think no matter what, if you are an employee at a hagwon or a public school, you will be limited in what you can do. I believe it is the lack of freedom that makes people bitter about their jobs. In the end, good teachers will probably be less good because of things in the system they disagree with. However, in the end, I truly believe being a good teacher is innate in most people. I believe the system turns people into robot teachers, but I believe a teacher is bad or good even before and after they go through the hagwon/school system.
What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while here?
I guess one the hardest life lessons was realizing that not everyone is as nice as you are, and that you sometimes have to make hard decisions that may make you look bad. Another life lesson I learned is that you can’t make everyone happy and like you, and that it’s okay to not have everyone like you.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching abroad or living abroad?
Do it, grow, and learn. Teaching or just living outside of the country you were born in is a great experience. No offence to people who have never been outside their birth country, but you are limiting your growth if you are not experiencing new places and meeting different people. Also, it’s never too young to start.
Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursue abroad?
I guess my passion is to create a lifestyle where I can have control over my time and still make a sustainable income. I’m still working towards that through the projects and businesses I am currently working on. I also enjoy playing basketball when possible and making websites and podcasts in my free time.
I love creating businesses online. Could you tell us a bit more about what you’re doing and how you’re growing them?
Okay, I would love to, and if it gets too long, feel free to delete information.
I guess I technically have 3 online businesses plus 1 hagwon. Even though my hagwon is an offline business, I utilize 2 websites that I have created and an online homework program for the hagwon business.
But, let’s talk about the 3 online businesses:
The main online business I currently have is FlowerGiftKorea.com This is an online flower shop that caters to English speaking buyers all over the world. We currently have sold to people in every continent and most of our sales come from Canada, USA, UK and Australia. Yes, Korea doesn’t account for most of our sales.
We launched the site in April 2016, so it’s relatively new, but we have been getting great reception and people have been kind of enough to leave very positive reviews on our facebook page and some on google.
We mainly grow the business via social media (instagram, facebook, twitter, etc), paid advertising (google, facebook, waygook.org), and trying to rank higher on google by writing content and using some SEO strategies.
We post something on social media almost every day and emphasize on customer service. I can go on and on about the things I am doing to grow this business, but I’ll stop right here.
One of my side online businesses is hagwonstart.com. This is a blog/podcast where I share about my experiences running my own hagwon. I provide tips and information to people who want to start a hagwon one day, or are in the beginning process. I don’t actively market this online business as much as I do for FlowerGiftKorea, but I do share posts on facebook and twitter, and have more content available on the site. Also, the podcast is available on itunes.
I have a startup guide that people can purchase if they like and an ebook. I have plans to create a few more products that can be helpful to others.
I have never used paid advertising for this site, but still have been able to make sales. I just focus on content creation. It’s a lot of fun to share tips and experiences running my own hagwon business.
Another one of my side online businesses is marketinginkorea.com. I wanted to learn more about what kinds of businesses people were doing in Korea, but I didn’t know how. That’s why I created this blog/podcast. It gave me an excuse to interview various business people and learn from their experiences. Also, as I gain more and more experience, I am able to record podcasts alone. The goal is to just share valuable information with people who want to do business in Korea. I currently don’t market this business because my main focus is my flower store and the hagwonstart podcast. However, I plan on adding more information to this site in the future.
I look at my online businesses as if they are marathons. I know that I have to at least see how my flower business will do for a year before I can even have an idea of how good it can be. For the hagwonstart and marketinginkorea podcast, I think it’ll be a few more years before they have a chance to take off. However, I love recording podcasts and providing information that may be beneficial to others. Especially, to those who are hoping to start their own business in Korea one day.
What would you be doing if you were still in your home country?
I honestly would be a different person if I had never left Canada in the first place. But, I guess I would have followed the path of becoming an elementary school teacher or doing some kind of social work of some sort. I really don’t know because a lot can happen in 6/7 years, and that’s about how long I’ve been in Korea.
Do you want to add anything else?
I just want to say that if you are reading this and you don’t know what to do with your life, keep searching. I was searching for a long time, and I now believe I know what I want to do with my life. I want to create a lifestyle with my wife that we can enjoy, help others do the same, and hopefully create some businesses than can generate some jobs for family and friends. I believe we were all created for something greater and bigger than ourselves, so don’t let fear stop you from trying to do more than what most people think is possible.
Can you tell us a few tips or tricks to help improve our classes?
I believe every class is different, so my tips may not apply to you. However, I believe it’s best to start of strict and then loosen up as the year goes on. Also, make it very clear to the student that you are the teacher and they are the student.
What websites or books helped you when you first started? Which do you still use now?
The following books have set me on the path to creating the life I want to have for myself. They aren’t necessarily teaching books, but they have allowed me to find what I really love about teaching and how to create a lifestyle with teaching as the focus. The books are, “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, “The 4-Hour Workweek”, “Crush It”, “The E-Myth Revisited”, and “The Personal MBA” To be honest, besides books I was told to read in teacher’s college, I haven’t read books on teaching.
What are the go-to tools that you think teachers should buy to improve their class. I’ve found that a set of mini-whiteboards work wonders for young learners. What about you?
I believe having a point and prize system works wonders. I personally would love it if kids learned because they wanted to and not because they were bribed, but this isn’t the reality.
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